Iranian FM visits Armenia, discusses Armenian-Azerbaijani border tensions and expansion of Iran’s economic presence in the country
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited Armenia and discussed the situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border with Armenian Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazyan. The border conflict escalated after the Azerbaijani armed forces advanced their positions several kilometers into Armenian territory on May 12 and refused to withdraw despite repeated calls from Yerevan.
Iran’s foreign minister arrived in Yerevan from Baku, where tensions on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border were also raised.
During the meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister, Ara Ayvazyan said that the encroachment on Armenia’s territorial integrity is the consequence of an inadequate international response to Baku’s actions during the second Karabakh war in fall 2020.
During negotiations with Acting Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, Mohammad Javad Zarif spoke of Iran’s intention to expand its presence in southern Armenia, in the Syunik region, by emphasizing implemented several economic projects.
Prior to FM Zarif’s visit, Armenian experts predicted that security issues would dominate the agenda of negotiations with senior Armenian officials because “it is not in Iran’s interest to endanger its border with Armenia ”. However, the Armenian expert community also agreed that the importance of expanding Armenia’s economic cooperation with Iran also cannot be overlooked.
Iran ready to provide assistance to Armenia
The Iranian Foreign Minister stressed that Tehran called for a peaceful solution to the problems of the South Caucasus which would be implemented with full respect for the territorial integrity of the countries and the rights of the peoples concerned.
At the same time, FM Zarif said Iran was ready to offer assistance in resolving tensions on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border:
“We are very concerned about the recent escalation. We have cautioned the parties to exercise restraint. The purpose of this visit is to help resolve this tension. Yesterday I had a detailed conversation [about it] in Azerbaijan today I have discussed very important issues with you. […] Hope we can find a way out of this situation. We stress that internationally recognized borders and territorial integrity are our red line ”.
Expanding Iran’s Presence in Armenia
During the meeting with the Acting Prime Minister of Armenia, the Iranian Foreign Minister also raised the issue of the ongoing escalation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. Nikol Pashinyan again expressed Yerevan’s position, stating that the armed forces of Azerbaijan must leave the sovereign territory of Armenia.
Prime Minister Pashinyan also stressed that Armenia is determined to resolve the crisis through political and diplomatic means, and the country’s partners in the Collective Security Treaty Organization are calling for the same:
“You know that according to the charter of the Collective Security Treaty, military actions on the territory of our country will lead to the involvement of other CSTO member states. […] Unfortunately, I have to say that yesterday an Armenian soldier was killed following a shootout by the Azerbaijani army ”.
Speaking of bilateral economic relations, Pashinyan and Zarif referred to the free trade zone, created on the border with Iran, in the Syunik region. It has yet to realize its full potential due to the restriction induced by the pandemic, but it can become an important platform to strengthen economic cooperation between the two countries.
“I hope we can ensure an active presence in Syunik in the near future. I had a strategic dialogue with my Armenian colleagues and at the earliest opportunity, our representative will come to Armenia to continue this dialogue ”, declared FM Zarif.
He also referred to the Iran-Nakhichevan-Armenia Railway, which, from the Iranian diplomat’s point of view, can be extremely useful for countries in the region.
Iranian Foreign Minister’s visit to Armenia and Azerbaijan is a direct result of tensions on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, Iranianist Garik Misakyan believes:
“The situation in Syunik has become the subject of serious discussion in Iran. We have already heard several declarations on the inviolability of internationally recognized borders, we have witnessed a rather harsh reaction from certain Iranian circles to the actions of Azerbaijan. We can say that the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, seeing that this issue has not been resolved, is trying to get to know the situation better, to know the official position of the parties and to make known the official position of Iran ”.
Misakyan says strengthening Turkish influence in the region is not in Iran’s interest at all:
“Iran’s statements say that no action should interfere with the normal functioning of the Armenian-Iranian land border. […] In this regard, Iran’s position will be very different from that of the 44-day Artsakh war. There will be harshness on the issue of borders and Turkish influence in the region. Iran will try to extend its cooperation with Armenia in all areas ”.
The expert considers it important, in particular, to strengthen economic relations and even cooperation in the military field:
“There are quite a few meetings between the Iranian ambassador in Armenia and the Armenian ambassador in Iran on military matters. In other words, Armenia can count on multilateral relations and assistance from Iran. Iran’s involvement in the construction of the North-South highway has geopolitical significance [ the railway will connect the northern and southern parts of Armenia with the south and the construction of it began in 2012 but is not yet completed, therefore, Iran intends to participate in this project – JAMnews].
In order to implement all of these programs, Iran needs a peaceful Syunik and therefore needs to resolve Syunik’s border issues as soon as possible – either alone or with the help of its allies ”.